Gwalior city is one of the best places in Madhya Pradesh that is beaming with history and stories. From the 10th century Gwalior fort to the Jai Vilas Palace built in the 19th century, there are many many places to visit and stories that span across years and centuries. If you are planning to visit Gwalior in a day, it is tough and you might get to taste just a sip of wine. But if you would like to savor this cup of wine then give it two or three days at least. I have already written a bit about Gwalior before. I was amazed to see the rock-cut Jain temples with huge huge statues popping out of nowhere on the hillside. And then was surprised to see Miyan Tansen belonged to this region. I felt so blessed to come across his Tomb. And the valor of Jhansi ki Rani!! There is a spot in Gwalior which is mentioned as to where she landed while jumping from Gwalior fort. From that spot, you cannot even see the fort! Such is the distance. Like this, there are many many stories that make you go wide-mouthed. So I am gonna take you around Gwalior in this travel guide and show you all the best places to visit in Gwalior.
It was afternoon by the time I arrived at Tansen Residency. It is a hotel run by the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department (MPTD). The rooms were good and spacious. The tourism office is right inside the Tansen residency. They have a little yellow bus that takes you on a city tour for a price. The tour is for about three hours covers Jai Vilas palace, Sun temple, Tansen's tomb, Gujari Mahal and end at the Gwalior fort. Called as Gwalior Darshan, this bus runs in two timings. First, one from 10 am to 1 pm and the next one starts from 3 pm to 8 pm. However, I found it to be too little time and did not opt for it. The hotel was right on the main road that it was convenient to find the rickshaws and negotiate. Without wasting time, I dropped my bag and decided to head off to the Jai Vilas Mahal. The first palace of the trip and the one within the city limits.
Jai Vilas Palace
Jai Vilas Palace aka Jai Vilas Mahal stands right in the heart of the city. Between the lanes of a residential layout lies this huge palace. It is said to have nearly 400 rooms of which 40 rooms have now been converted into a museum. The palace was built during the rule of Maratha Scindias and so you can see artifacts from the Maratha kingdom. It was built in 1874 by Maharaja Jayajirao Scindia and the museum was established in the year 1964. Amidst tight security, you enter into the posh museum glittering with lights and artifacts. There is pretty much everything that takes you back in time. The palace is in European style and most of the artifacts and furniture are in Indian style. Palanquins, dresses of the royal family, weaponry, coins, rooms used by the royal family, Persian carpets, silver and gold cutleries, numerous mirrors everywhere, paintings and chandeliers, and so many much more.
What stood out to me is the making of Maratha Sindeshahi Pagdi. The Pagadi looks simple and lightweight when seen on the display. But guess what, it takes weeks to make one intricate Sindeshahi Pagdi. One turban is made of nearly 80 meters long Chanderi silk cloth. They weave, die it, go through some more processes and it is intricately designed is tied by hand. The art is dying! There is only one person called Mohammad Rafiq who is in his mid seventies, knows how to make these turbans. These turbans are meant only for the royal family and then you can see them in temples adorned on God statues. You can spot it on occasions at Ujjain Mahakaleshwar, Kaal Bhairav and so on. There is a video on display that shows how they make this turban, very fascinating.
On the upper floors, a huge room is dedicated to Madhavrao Scindia. It depicts his love for cricket, politics and the desk he used, the medals and accolades he received.
The next notable thing was the really really long dining table lined on either side with silver chairs and silver cutlery neatly kept on display. What you need to notice though is the little train running around the table, carrying brandy and whiskey bottles around :) Such a cute idea it was.
The other section of the palace dazzles you with solid glass! It is surprising to see chairs whose legs are made of solid glass. The staircase the side handle of which is thick glass glistening away. And enter the room which is the durbar hall, you come across the heaviest chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. I wanted them to be so lit and the room is all bright. They looked super duper cool.
Overall though the Jai Vilas Palace has expensive artifacts there were no aesthetics to the place. I kind of regretted going there. For instance, those beautiful world-class chandeliers are hanging in a room with old torn filthy curtains giving it a haunted feel. And then there is an intricate pooja set up and they have put a very basic, a toy like, Krishna statue. Then there is this awesome dining room filled with cheap plastic flowers. Totally not royal. And mirrors were like on second sale, randomly thrown everywhere :)
The entry fees to Jai Vilas Mahal is 100 INR for Indian adults and INR 600 for foreigners. The museum is open from 10 am to 4:45 pm. There is a cafe outside for some good coffee and cakes.
The prime attraction of the Gwalior city is the Gwalior fort. The magnificent Gwalior fort wall running along the cliff of the Gopachal hill with deep gorges all around. It takes your breath to just see the yellow and blue and turquoise coloured tile running along the wall. Gwalior fort has gone through many hands, various invasions and at some point, it just served as a prison. And yet to see these colored tiles staying intact, only says how rich the architecture must have been. The fort has multiple temples and palaces. It moved hands from Sens to Tomars to Mughals to British to Marathas to Scindias and each one either destroyed a portion of it or built something for themselves. The main prime attraction of the fort is the Man Singh Palace built by Raja Man Singh Tomar. Very intricate lattice and jaali work can be observed here.
Gwalior fort needs a separate blog post. For it has stories of valour, stories of love and stories of sacrifice to talk about. So read about Gwalior fort here - History of Gwalior Fort and Tour around the Fort
Apart from the Man Singh Palace, Jahangir palace, Karan Mahal and many other palaces inside the Gwalior fort, there are several other monuments within the fort premises. You will need a vehicle to shuttle between these monuments. Hiring a guide would prove to be extremely useful. Taking you through the monuments inside the Gwalior Fort.
Rock Cut Jain Statues
Gwalior fort is one such fort where you can see a bit of everything. Temples, mosques and Jain statues too. You will not believe your eyes when you come across these statues! They are larger than life, the tallest measuring up to 58 feet in height. There are two sets of rock-cut Jain caves. One is on the Gopachal hill on the Urwahi road and another set is on the Siddanhcal caves. Both are different styles. The idea is to honor the Tirthankaras.
Read more about the Jain monuments here - Rock Cut Jain Monuments of Gwalior fort.
Sas Bahu Temple
Originally this temple is called Sahastrabahu temple and colloquially it got pronounced as the Sas Bahu Temple. There are two temples standing next to each other. The bigger one is obviously the Sas (mother in law) and the smaller one is considered the Bahu (daughter in law). Sahastrabahu, on the other hand, means a thousand hands. These temples were constructed by the Kachchapaghata rulers. The temples are beautiful. Not just the carvings and stories on the temple premises, the other unique technique you can see on the walls of these temples is "etching". I have seen more of the carving of sandstone but etching seemed to me new. And that makes the temple all the richer with fine details. And then from here, you can see the whole Gwalior city view. Flooding with pics of Sas Bahu Temple here.
Driving down from the Gwalior fort another landmark that you will hit is the prestigious Scindia School. It is an all-boys boarding school and obviously, you are not allowed to enter the school. The school was started by Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia and he started it exclusively for kids of the royal family. Maybe that is why people stop here and look at it with awe. Opposite the school was a dreamy staff quarter. And nothing else to do here.
Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhor Sahib
Like I had mentioned before, Gwalior fort was used as a prison and many important people, kings, and princes were kept captive in it by the Mughals. The sixth Sikh Guru Hargobind Singh was also held captive in Gwalior fort. He became a Sikh Guru by the age of 11 itself and soon his father who was the fifth Guru was martyred by Jehangir. Guru Hargobind Singh builds Akhal Takth and builds the military regime of Sikhism. Fearing the sudden rise, Jehangir imprisons the guru in the Gwalior Fort. He was arrested at the age of 14 yrs and was released around 19 yrs. There is an interesting story about his release too. It seems Jehangir falls sick and about to die while the people in his court suggest him to pray to the sixth Guru and release him. Jehangir does that. Guru Hargobind was not the only one imprisoned. There were 52 other kings lodged there under the pretext of not paid enough tax or war or some petty reason. Guru Hargobind Singh demands the release of all the kings and Jehangir says, "take as many as who can hold on to your coat". So the guru gets a special lengthy coat stitched for him which has 52 hems and each king catches hold of one and comes out along with him.
The Gurudwara was built during 1970s and 1980s. The release of the Guru coincides with a date close to when Diwali gets celebrated. I hanged around the Gurudwara but I was a bit early and no one was there so did not get to try the langar.
Teli ka Mandir
What a name right? It is named because a wealthy rich Teli guy offered to build it. It is not even named after his name. Teli means an oil merchant. Teli ka Mandir was built during the reign of King Mihira Bhoja of the Pratihara dynasty. It is surprising to see a Dravidian style gopuram on the temple which is quite a rarity to see in North India especially at that age of time. It is one of the biggest Gwalior monuments that you will come across.
With this all the Gwalior monuments within the fort are done, you can come down the hill and explore the city for the rest of the places.
Gujari Mahal Archaeological Museum
We know the love story of the Gujari princess Mrignayani and Raja Man Singh Tomar. So the palace he built for her is now an archaeological museum. It is the state museum and there are many artifacts and sculptures stacked here. The museum is closed on Monday and I was promptly there on a Monday afternoon. So stood by the door, saw the path that leads to the Gwalior fort. There are still a few pillars and great sculptures placed around. Apparently, you can see the broken water pipelines running through the palace.
Tansen's Tomb and Tomb of Mohammad Ghaus
Miyan Tansen was the greatest Hindustani singer in the court of Emperor Akbar. I am sure many of you would have read about him and how he can set things on fire by just singing or bring down the rain. Tansen is from Gwalior and you can find the Tomb of Tansen here. Did you know that Tansen was born with speech impairment and he was brought to Mohammad Ghaus by his parents. He not only helps him with his speech but also trains him to become the greatest singer. The tomb of the guru is magnificent and more elaborate than the Tansen's tomb.
More about history and trivia about Tansen's life here - Miyan Tansen’s Tomb At Gwalior
Annual music festival called Tansen Sangeet Samorah takes place in Gwalior in the month of November or December. Keep a lookout for it.
Chhatri of Jhansi Ki Rani Lakshmibhai
Jhansi ki Rani, Lakshmibhai, died at Gwalior and at the place where she was cremated stands a monument. Or rather a statue of Her has been erected. One of the early freedom fighters, she valiantly jumped off the Gwalior fort while on the back of her horse and breathed her last in 1858. This place is more like a park and she stands tall in the middle of the park. And you can feel all that courage through her. There is also a fire that is kept burning forever.
Sun Temple Gwalior
Sun temple or the Surya Mandir as it is called in Hindi, is a replica of Konark Sun Temple. Not exact replica but they have tried to more or less make it the same way. The temple has wheels around and horses pulling around and the temple is modelled like a chariot with Sun God riding it. The temple was not very artistically impressive but there are good sculptures and spacious garden around. With palm trees dotting around and squirrels playing around, it is a serene place to spend your evening at.
And that is how you spend couple of days in Gwalior. If you still have the strength you can finish it up with the sound and light show. Or keep the fort as your last item to look around.
How to Reach Gwalior
Gwalior is well connected by train, road and air. Gwalior has its own airport so you can fly directly into it. Or take a road trip to Gwalior. I was touring around the state so I headed to Gwalior from Orchha. From Orchha you do not have a direct train, but you can catch on from Jhansi which is not far from Orchha. In fact, I think I took an auto rickshaw from Orchha to Jhansi and caught the train. So you are all see to reach Gwalior.
Tourist Map of Gwalior City
Here is a tourist map of the Gwalior City and places are marked below and clicking on the markers takes you there.
Where to Stay in Gwalior
Gwalior is a big city and you have plenty of good options to stay. I stayed at the MPT Tansen Residency. The hotel is run by tourism board and they have done pretty good job. If you are planning to take the Gwalior Darshan, then it is a good idea to stay here and book your day tour at the tourism office. There is also a souvenir shop in the premises and named as "Mrignayani". If you are looking for heritage options, there is Taj Usha Kiran Palace and Neemrana's Deo Bagh.
Here is where you can book your hotel in Gwalior - Gwalior Hotels